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Thread: The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency

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    Default The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency

    The Former-Insurgent Counterinsurgency
    by Michael R. Gordon
    The New York Times, September 2, 2007


    Checkpoint 20 was the last piece of American-controlled terrain on the road to Hawr Rajab and our linkup point with Sheik Ali Majid al-Dulaimi. Before heading out, Lt. Col. Mark Odom surveyed the terrain from the rooftop of the nearby American combat outpost, a heavily sandbagged structure surrounded by concrete walls to guard against car bombs. A dusty town on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, Hawr Rajab had a strategic importance that belied its humble appearance. It straddled the infiltration routes used by Sunni militants to circumvent Lionís Gate, the grandiloquently named system of checkpoints, canals and other obstacles designed to stop the suicide attacks that had brought havoc to the Iraqi capital.

    Hawr Rajab had been under the dominion of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, a predominantly Iraqi group that took its inspiration from Osama bin Laden and whose senior echelons are filled by foreign jihadis. The groupís fighters in Hawr Rajab were armed with AK-47s, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and a seemingly endless supply of homemade improvised explosive devices (I.E.D.ís), many of which were concocted from urea fertilizer and nitric acid. They were hard to detect and yet powerful enough to destroy an armored vehicle. Odomís soldiers had never driven into the town without encountering some form of ďcontact,Ē as his soldiers matter-of-factly referred to the clashes.

    This day in early August, however, was to mark a turning point. Just a month earlier, the Americans acquired a new ally: Sheik Ali, a leader of the Dulaimi tribe. In an extraordinary development, a growing number of Sunnis who had sympathized with the insurgency or even fought American forces were now more concerned with removing Al Qaeda from their midst ó so much so that they had chosen to ally with their supposed occupiers. Such expedient confederations were emerging across Iraq. They began last year when Sunni tribes and former insurgents in western Anbar Province began cooperating with American forces, cropped up later in the violent Diyala Province and even emerged in the sharply contested Ameriya neighborhood in Baghdad.

    ...
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/02/ma...l?ref=magazine

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    Council Member MattC86's Avatar
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    I'm starting to think the "al-Anbar miracle" or whatever could end up being a tactical- or operational-level success that, in the short term, further muddies the strategic equation. Especially since the strategic timeline has been compressed into just a few months by a skeptical government and public. We've changed the dynamics in the province, and reconciliation at ground level is underway, but that process could take years to reach the macro-level of the Maliki-government, which seems politically unlikely to say the least.

    I think the current situation with the Madhi Army and al-Sadr holds more political potential, particularly if he can somehow get shoehorned into the government, or at least tacit acceptance.

    With the sectarian strife level being what it is, close collaboration between Sunnis and the Americans is potentially destabilizing for a Maliki government that is suspect in its desire for reconciliation. Closer cooperation (or, as I said, tacit acceptance) with/by al-Sadr and his goons holds more tantalizing prospects for strategic progress, I think.

    Of course, that's not going to be a popular view for the US, because it's largely out of our control, and puts the genuineness (unless that's not a word) of both al-Maliki and al-Sadr to the test.

    Keep your fingers crossed.

    Matt
    "Give a good leader very little and he will succeed. Give a mediocrity a great deal and he will fail." - General George C. Marshall

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    Quote Originally Posted by MattC86 View Post
    I'm starting to think the "al-Anbar miracle" or whatever could end up being a tactical- or operational-level success that, in the short term, further muddies the strategic equation. Especially since the strategic timeline has been compressed into just a few months by a skeptical government and public. We've changed the dynamics in the province, and reconciliation at ground level is underway, but that process could take years to reach the macro-level of the Maliki-government, which seems politically unlikely to say the least.
    I think Matt has highlighted a critical issue here.

    The substantial success in negotiating a modus vivendi with Sunni tribes in al-Anbar (and elsewhere), and in having local actors turn against al-Qa'ida and bolster local security, is seen by many Shi'ite political leaders (and, frankly, many Shi'ites) as evidence of an emerging US pro-Sunni tilt. As a result, they're even less likely to offer compromises (on constitutional reform, petroleum revenues, eliminating sectarian militias in the police and other security forces, etc.). Potentially, therefore, the requirements of short-term security and stabilization could pull in the opposite direction from longer-term national reconciliation.

    This is not to say the "flip the Sunni tribes" strategy is wrong, only that there needs to be a clear accompanying strategy for easing the Shi'ite concerns that this exacerbates. I'm not sure I actually see one, at least from a distance.

    Complicating things still further, I'm sure (having spent some time in Tehran this summer) that the Iranians see US-tribal rapprochement in al-Anbar as evidence of an emerging US-Sunni-Arab (Jordanian/Saudi/Egyptian) axis in Iraq. In turn, they'll be spinning that (genuinely-held) threat perception to their Iraqi allies.

    An interesting element in all of this is Sadr's recent announcement of a suspension of Jaysh al-Mahdi activities. There are many theories as to why he's doing this: reorganization of a splintered militia that only sporadically follows orders, an effort to out-wait the surge, a building phase, an attempt to appear as a more palatable leader as Malaki's political capital continues to fade, an effort to reposition himself as a "national" rather than sectarian figure (and probably a few I haven't seen or heard of yet). Its not at all clear to me how he sees the current US strategy, and whether this is a response to it or motivated by other factors.

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Sadr is up to no good and always has been

    I have to weigh in and say that while risky, the strategy applied in Anbar was and is still brilliant, and also was the ONLY choice. And, the Marines have implemented it with near perfection. Further, I am convinced that had the Brits not intervened in 2004 to fly Sistani back from being treated for health problems to lobby on behalf of Sadr, with Paul Bremer buckling under the political pressure, the Marines would not have been forced to release Sadr, who was in the custody of 3/2 Marines at that time, and the reconcilation situation in Iraq would not be as bad off as it is today.

    http://www.captainsjournal.com/2007/...se-of-the-jam/

    Concluding, the Shi'a factions are the biggest long to term threat to peace and stability in Iraq. Our leaving Sadr unmolested and the British failure in the Basra province has set up a wing of Iran in Iraq, just like the Hezbollah in Lebanon. The most significant strategic blunder in all of OIF was leaving Sadr alive (along with perhaps failing to excise Badr from the government). We unwittingly set up OIF to fail by believing that a terrorist like Sadr could be entrusted with government of people.

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    Council Member Ken White's Avatar
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    Default Well, okay I guess. I think there are a few things

    in your last paragraph that you might wish to consider.

    I agree the Shia (in all their various factions -- and there are far more than two) are possibly the greatest threat to stability in Iraq. I'm not sure there will ever be peace there in the western sense; it is after all the ME.

    Also agree that releasing Sadr was a mistake -- IMO, it pales into insignificance beside the disbandment of the Army and the Police but it was a bad political decision, I think.

    In fairness to the British, they mistakenly tried to leverage their vaunted experience and did not realize that this was not a typical insurgency and Basra was not Belfast or Bidur. We aren't the only ones who have difficulty transferring experience to new generations -- or dealing with other cultures.

    I do disagree with your last sentence. I don't think anyone in the US government ever believed that.

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    Default Sadr is the answer

    The existence of Sadr is key because he causes competition with Dawa-SIIC for the allegience (sp?) of Iraqi Shiites. Thus, he prevents the Iranian parties from operating unopposed in the South. If he were already removed, nothing would stand in the way of Dawa-SIIC from monopolizing the scene in the south and secede, especially because the Sunnis show no signs of compromise from a government they see of Iran puppets. However, if Sadr were to form an alliance with the Sunnis, then this would restore the necessary (but not sufficient) cross-sectarian cooperation that could make a national government work. At this point, we need to 'flip' Sadr and strike a deal as we withdraw, giving him what he has publicly demanded for the duration of the war. We have kept the pressure on the Mahdi because its rogue elements are attacking us, but these free-lancers are getting their support from the Iranians, and not from Sadr. Because of this, Sadr has been maintaining a low profile since the beginning of the surge because the Iranians are provoking us to go after him. This is what he realized finally this week, and why he is reorganizing his militia. If we were to give him some space, he could form a center of Iraqi politics that works with the Salvation Council and other neighborhood militias and begin to build a Iraqi response to radicalism rather than a purely sectarian one.

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    Council Member Danny's Avatar
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    Default Sadr is the answer??!!!

    Last edited by Danny; 09-02-2007 at 02:25 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Danny View Post
    And, the Marines have implemented it with near perfection.
    Putting aside the maxim that there is little good you can't do if you don't care who gets the credit......

    To be clear, the efforts of an ARMY BDE (1/1 AD in Ramadi) under 1 MEF made the tribes flip. I MEF backed us up, and one of our BN's was a Marine INF BN. I'm tired of seeing everyone give the USMC credit for what an army heavy BCT did.
    "A Sherman can give you a very nice... edge."- Oddball, Kelly's Heroes
    Who is Cavguy?

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    Thumbs up

    I'm working in Fallujah as the Tribal/Leadership Engagement Officer for my unit. The Anbar tribes initiative has spread out into neighboring provinces and is starting to resonate in the Shia communities as well. Shia tribal leaders are absolutely hungry for engagement and feel quite strongly that tribal identity can trump sectarian divisions. In Taji, for example, a joint Sunni and Shia tribal confederation has been established whereby both groups will jointly fight AQI and JAM. The more religiously based parties in Iraq do not have the deepest roots in large parts of the country and rightfully fear any kind of tribal political awakening in the country. In many respects, I feel the tribes of Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, are the future for creating stability in the country and, with national elections, are the key to political rejuvenation in Baghdad.

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    Bush Said to approve more aid to Iraqi Sunnis battling extremist groups - NYTIMES, 2 Sep.

    President Bush, marshaling his arguments to maintain current troop levels in Iraq, has approved the acceleration of a new program to intensify economic assistance directly to Sunni Arab regions where former insurgents have joined American forces in fighting extremist Sunni groups, senior American officials say.

    The move, which has been gathering momentum for several months, was discussed at length on Friday at a Pentagon session attended by Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior American commanders in Iraq, the officials said.


    ...

    But that discussion quickly focused on an issue Mr. Bush and his aides are accused of mishandling after the invasion: making sure that Sunnis are empowered and that they receive a share of the funds that flow from Baghdad, where Shiite leaders have seen their moment for revenge against their former oppressors under Saddam Hussein’s rule.


    Mr. Bush and his commanders weighed whether to reward the Sunnis with early provincial elections, restoring a degree of political power to them. But calling elections is no longer within the power of the United States, and the Shiite-dominated national government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has long opposed empowering the Sunnis.


    They also discussed ways to pressure Mr. Maliki’s government to provide millions of dollars in Iraqi funds — much of it oil money — to reconstruction of Anbar’s schools and health care centers and the reopening of state-run factories.


    This is all about finding ways to circumvent Maliki,” said one senior official who is involved in preparing Mr. Bush’s presentation of a new strategy, which will probably come in an address to the country after General Petraeus and the American ambassador to Iraq, Ryan C. Crocker, have presented their report to Congress starting on Sept. 10. “We can’t go to the Hill again and say Maliki will perform if we just give him the space. He won’t. So you find other means to accomplish the goal ...”

    If David Sanger's reporting is accurate, doesn't this mean that the USG has largely given up on getting the Iraqi central government to support the tribal policy anytime soon?
    Last edited by tequila; 09-02-2007 at 01:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DGreen View Post
    I'm working in Fallujah as the Tribal/Leadership Engagement Officer for my unit. The Anbar tribes initiative has spread out into neighboring provinces and is starting to resonate in the Shia communities as well. Shia tribal leaders are absolutely hungry for engagement and feel quite strongly that tribal identity can trump sectarian divisions. In Taji, for example, a joint Sunni and Shia tribal confederation has been established whereby both groups will jointly fight AQI and JAM. The more religiously based parties in Iraq do not have the deepest roots in large parts of the country and rightfully fear any kind of tribal political awakening in the country. In many respects, I feel the tribes of Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, are the future for creating stability in the country and, with national elections, are the key to political rejuvenation in Baghdad.
    Great post, DGreen!

    The more religiously based parties in Iraq do not have the deepest roots in large parts of the country and rightfully fear any kind of tribal political awakening in the country.
    Why is this the case?

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    Default tribes, JAM, et al

    Personally, I don't think holding Sadr (or, for that matter, resisting Sistani's pressure) was ever a realistic option. Whatever his many sins, its just not feasible to promote democracy on the one hand while detaining a popular party leader in the country on the other. On the contrary, it would have just burnished his Iraqi nationalist/anti-occupation credentials. (I'm also not sure the British ever had a hope in hell of halting the consolidation of SCIRI and Sadr influence in the south--Rory Stewart's Prince of the Marsh Arabs is excellent on this.)

    Quote Originally Posted by DGreen View Post
    I'm working in Fallujah as the Tribal/Leadership Engagement Officer for my unit. The Anbar tribes initiative has spread out into neighboring provinces and is starting to resonate in the Shia communities as well. Shia tribal leaders are absolutely hungry for engagement and feel quite strongly that tribal identity can trump sectarian divisions. In Taji, for example, a joint Sunni and Shia tribal confederation has been established whereby both groups will jointly fight AQI and JAM. The more religiously based parties in Iraq do not have the deepest roots in large parts of the country and rightfully fear any kind of tribal political awakening in the country. In many respects, I feel the tribes of Iraq, both Sunni and Shia, are the future for creating stability in the country and, with national elections, are the key to political rejuvenation in Baghdad.
    Thanks for the very useful update!

    My sense is that JAM has always been a largely urban phenomenon, and I suspect that urban base is solid enough that it won't be shrunk too much the (very important) developments outside Baghdad, Basra, etc.--especially given the extent to which the Shi'ite militias are seen by urban Shi'ites to have provided (post-Samarra) protection in the face of Sunni attacks. From afar it seems that among middle class Iraqi Shi'ites (many of whom once looked down upon Sadr's "unwashed masses" with disdain) there's a feeling that "he's a thug, but at least he's OUR thug."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
    Personally, I don't think holding Sadr (or, for that matter, resisting Sistani's pressure) was ever a realistic option. Whatever his many sins, its just not feasible to promote democracy on the one hand while detaining a popular party leader in the country on the other. On the contrary, it would have just burnished his Iraqi nationalist/anti-occupation credentials.
    ...
    My sense is that JAM has always been a largely urban phenomenon, and I suspect that urban base is solid enough that it won't be shrunk too much the (very important) developments outside Baghdad, Basra, etc.--especially given the extent to which the Shi'ite militias are seen by urban Shi'ites to have provided (post-Samarra) protection in the face of Sunni attacks. From afar it seems that among middle class Iraqi Shi'ites (many of whom once looked down upon Sadr's "unwashed masses" with disdain) there's a feeling that "he's a thug, but at least he's OUR thug."
    Al Sadr reminds me most of Hitler in the 1920s. Hitler too used both the democratic path and militia. And just as Al Sadr has the image of the polician who not only talks but also takes care of protecting against the Sunnites Hitler had a similar image for actually doing something against the communists.

    Al Sadr has been a murderer from the beginning of the American occupation and he has never stopped murdering. Just as Hitler he is prepared to play the democratic play but not to give up the violence that forms his ticket to power. If this man gets the chance he will become the new Saddam.

    I think it is naive to believe that you can have a real democracy as long as people who commit political murders are unassailable.

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    Default Are we SURE who killed Abu Risha

    Related to the topic:

    When I first heard that Abu Risha, the now famous Anbar shiek, was murdered I had a feeling it could very well have been done by elements of the Central Gov't who wanted to eliminate a powerful potential rival.

    All the news treats Al Queda as the known killer. How solid is this?

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    Council Member tequila's Avatar
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    The Islamic State in Iraq, AQI's political front in Iraq, claimed the assassination on al-Hesbah, a takfiri web forum. Thusfar AFAIK this claim has not been rescinded or refuted by AQI.

    You probably want to post an introduction in this part of the forum.

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    Our side could never flip Sadr. Fracture the madhi army with in-house fights and power vacums by killling Sadr, once Iran is attacked, and most of the fractured groups will align with the central government knowing nobody will have anything once the US footprint is reduced to a toeprint on their land. When Shi'ites centrally align in the prescribed, non-tribal, Constitutional way, the Sunnis will follow. Iran is the key and the price Iran must pay for wanting to be a nuke player is the literal destruction of their dreams. If they want to lash out over it visa-via causing us serious trouble in Iraq, then they face serious retribution against their infrastructure and they know it. This threat of additional destruction is the key to forcing Ahmadenijad out of power as well. It's the rules - we will not continue to pump billions into that part of the planet nor will Iran be allowed equal footing with the the Gulf. There can be only one hand on that big oil faucet over there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tequila View Post
    The Islamic State in Iraq, AQI's political front in Iraq, claimed the assassination on al-Hesbah, a takfiri web forum. Thusfar AFAIK this claim has not been rescinded or refuted by AQI.

    You probably want to post an introduction in this part of the forum.
    Thanks.

    I thought the MOI might have done it because of their immediate promise to send their (mainly shiite) forces to "Help" the anbar sunnis fight Al Queda, but I guess they were just quick to seize a golden opportunity.

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